Catch and Release


Jennifer Garner as Gray Wheeler
Timothy Olyphant as Fritz
Sam Jaeger as Dennis
Kevin Smith as Sam
Juliette Lewis as Maureen
Joshua Friesen as Mattie
Fiona Shaw as Mrs. Douglas
Tina Lifford as Eve

When Gray Wheeler’s (Jennifer Garner) fiancé is killed the day before their wedding, her comfortable life is thrown into chaos, especially once the secrets of her dead fiancé’s life start coming to the surface. The more she learns the more she realizes how little she knew him and, more importantly, how little she knew herself.

A story of self-discovery, “Catch and Release” is… well, it’s horribly, horribly dull is what it is. It’s like an entire season of a mediocre primetime soap opera squeezed into a couple of hours, filled with usual twists that are about as subtle and hard to see coming as an out of control garbage truck. The film cares not at all about the characters or what they’re going through – try though it might to make you think otherwise. It only cares about the immediate emotional reaction of whatever is going on at the moment, regardless of how many painfully contrived hoops have to be jumped through to get there, and hopes that the audience empathizes so much they don’t notice how banal it all is.

Maybe the idea is catharsis through shared misery, and better a fictional tragedy than a real one. It doesn’t do that particularly well, either. Even in the midst of emotional turmoil it plays things so safe as to rob the film of any sort of point or heart. It’s the emotional equivalent of cardboard. First time director Susannah Grant (“Erin Brokovich”) is so shamelessly manipulative it’s almost offensive, serving up processed tripe as if it had never been done before.

After her fiancé’s death, Gray finds herself homeless as well as husbandless and has to move in with her husband-to-be’s best friends and roommates: A) Dennis (Sam Jaeger), her boyfriend’s reserved, slightly dorky, fly-fishing business partner who’s harbored a secret crush on her for years; B) Sam (Kevin Smith), a really dorky, happy-go-lucky tea box copywriter; and C) the visiting Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), a handsome, emotionally reserved photographer and commercial director from L.A. who’s never wanted more than brief companionship from women. If you can’t tell which one Gray will find herself falling in love with then you are either four years old or this is the first movie you have ever seen, or both.

Gardner’s been doing earnest, over-the-top melodrama for years on television, so she fits right in to “Catch and Release” trying her hardest to instill it with a weight it could never possibly handle. Kevin Smith is Kevin Smith – as an actor he really only seems to have one gear, though this film doesn’t do much to try and stretch him either – and everyone else is lettuce; bland and unfulfilling. Olyphant in particular has done so much better work elsewhere and it’s doubly disappointing how futile he is here. Juliette Lewis shows up in the second half to try and breathe some whimsical life into the film as a flighty massage therapist, but ends up being just as pointless everything else.

It’s probably just me. These types of films aren’t really to my taste to begin with, and it’s not really fair to judge it based on what it’s not. Apart from an unctuous soundtrack it’s decently crafted, if completely uninspired. Still, if umpteen million people watch “Grey’s Anatomy” every week there’s certainly someone out there who will appreciate “Catch and Release” for what it is. I’m just not one of them.